After two seasons at Ole Miss, head coach Kermit Davis finally has a team full of his own recruited players — plus several strong upperclassmen — and he can implement the type of playstyle and coaching philosophy that brought him success for over a decade at Middle Tennessee.
Even with a team that is now majorly his own recruiting class, though, the Rebels have continued to struggle. With a 6-5 record thus far, Ole Miss men’s basketball is not having the standout season fans want, and the team is failing in three key areas: shot selection, defense and leadership.
Let’s revisit last Tuesday night’s game against the Gators where these struggles were prominently on display:
Shot selection, shot selection, shot selection:
Offensive success tends to stem from the Rebels shooting well, especially beyond the arc. Davis certainly doesn’t want this to be the key to success for his team, but unfortunately, that is the game this team of Rebels is playing this season.
The team went an impressive 6-14 from beyond the three-point-line against the Florida Gators and shot 38% from the field. The three-point shooting kept the team competitive in the game.
During the Alabama game, Ole Miss shot 1-13 for 3. This team will only stay in games if they can shoot above average from the field. The Rebels refuse to consistently grind out an offensive scheme that will give them either a decent look for a jump shot or a good matchup for Romello White inside the paint. Until they do, expect more offensive woes of poor shot selection and pray the Rebels can have a good shooting day.
Knees bent, butt down, play defense:
One of the more impressive aspects of the current Ole Miss team is the defense play at the beginning of the season.
The Davis system hinges on getting down and playing defense that is fierce, stout and forces turnovers. Thus, if the defense falls apart and the Rebels are not having a particularly hot day shooting, the game gets out of reach.
This was demonstrated against the Gators when Ole Miss allowed a 14-0 run while up by five points in the final minutes of the game. Without a defense that can consistently produce turnovers and force unfavorable shot selection against its opponent, the team won’t be able to compete from the tip-off.
Shuler or Joiner, whose team is it?
Senior guard Devontae Shuler, who has been a key player for the past three seasons, is joined this year by newcomer Jarkel Joiner, an Oxford local returning to Mississippi after a two year stint as a standout player for the CSU Bakersfield Runners. Both are good basketball players, but they haven’t quite figured out whose team it is yet.
Both want the ball; both want to take a shot; both want to be the guy who is the focal point of the offense. If this two-headed dragon approach continues, not only will neither be successful, but the team will continue to lose games. If the pair can learn to play to each other’s strengths and share the ball, then hopefully neither of them will care who is “the man” because they will be winning games.
However, Davis knows that for the offense to be successful, he must run offensive plays fully instead of settling for a contested jumper, and these offense plays should not run through Shuler or Joiner. It must be White who gets the ball in the paint and either makes a move for a layup or kicks it out to one of the guards for a decent shot.
Paired with the stout defense of which the Rebels are more than capable, if the game can run through White where he is setting screens and giving his surrounding cast the best shot opportunities, then this team can go head-to-head against anyone.
This is the third year of the Davis era, and the Rebel fan base wants him to succeed. However, two truths can be said: the Kermit system can work, but the current team is frustrating to watch and needs to continue to address its issues on the court. Otherwise, the boiling frustration of fans and tallies in the loss column will continue to rise.